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By Tom Woods
This column is written by Charlotte Glenn, the horticultural agent in Pender County, North Carolina. This information on sasanqua camellias is applicable to Brunswick County. You can read more of Charlotte’s writings by logging onto the Pender County Extension website at pender.ces.ncsu.edu/.
Though not as well known as their spring flowering cousins, fall-blooming camellias are wonderful landscape plants for the southeast.
Sometimes referred to simply as sasanquas from their scientific name, Camellia sasanqua, fall-blooming camellias are a group of hardy, durable, evergreen shrubs native to Asia. They make spectacular additions to partially shaded landscapes, offering evergreen foliage and showy flowers at a time of the year when most plants are going to bed for the winter.
Many varieties are available, with habits ranging from low-growing spreading shrubs to upright vigorous bushes that can be trained to grow as small trees.
In the landscape, sasanquas thrive in areas where azaleas do well. Like azaleas, they prefer to grow in well-drained, acidic soil that has been amended with compost. Though they will grow in full-shade, flowering will be more prolific in areas where they get sun for at least a few hours a day. Sasanquas will also grow in full-sun, but usually look better in areas where they receive some afternoon shade.
Fall-blooming camellias are only moderately drought tolerant. In heavy soils that contain some clay, they rarely need additional watering except during drought. In sandy soils though, weekly watering during summer will certainly help them grow better. A 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch will also help by preserving moisture and keeping the soil cooler.
Sasanquas vs. japonicas
It is relatively easy to tell the difference between fall-blooming camellias and their spring counterpart, Camellia japonica. Time of bloom is the biggest difference, with sasanquas blooming in fall and early winter and japonicas blooming in late winter and spring.
In addition, fall-blooming camellias look a little different than spring-blooming camellias, tending to have slightly smaller leaves and flowers and a less formal appearance. Their flowers range in color from white to pink to red and may be singe, semi-double or fully double.
Several varieties of fall-blooming camellias are readily available at garden centers in our area. Which variety will best suit your landscape depends on the space where you want it to grow. Taller varieties make beautiful, though moderately slow growing, hedges or specimen plants.
Overgrown camellias can even be turned into small trees by pruning off their lower branches. Low-growing selections fit well among foundation plantings or in perennial beds.
For smaller spaces, several fall-blooming camellia varieties are available that mature at 5 feet or less.
Producing deep red-pink, semi-double flowers in October and November, Bonanza will eventually reach 5 foot in height with a wider spread, and can be used in foundation plantings or as a low hedge. Chansonette, a seedling of Bonanza, has a similar habit with brighter rose pink flowers.
Shishigashira is a popular, long-blooming variety that produces an abundance of double dark rose-pink blossoms throughout fall, eventually reaching five-foot tall and wide with a spreading, compact habit.
Though a little larger-growing, Mine No Yuki can easily be kept small enough to use as a foundation plant with minimal pruning. A profuse bloomer, Mine No Yuki bears double-white flowers and has a spreading, loose habit with pendulous branches that will eventually reach six-foot or more in height and spread.
Larger-growing camellias are spectacular in the fall landscape. Kanjiro, a vigorous, upright variety, can grow to 10 feet or more and is usually taller than it is wide, making it a good choice to train as a small tree or use as a hedge. Its single, bright rosy red flowers are crowned in the center with a cluster of golden yellow stamens. Setsugekka has a similar growth form, but bears large, semi-double, white blossoms that will light up any autumn garden.
For a spectacular specimen shrub, consider planting Sparkling Burgundy. This reliable variety bears rose pink double-blooms and is often one of the first fall-blooming camellias to flower. Sparkling Burgundy will grow to 8 feet tall and wide with a dense, bushy habit.
For a later-blooming variety, consider Yuletide, which bears crimson red single flowers with golden centers around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yuletide is a fairly slow-growing camellia, eventually reaching 10 feet in height with a narrow upright habit that make it great for spots where horizontal space is limited.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.